How to write a story that is “A Winner” – By Reet Singh

We all love a good story. How often have we started a book that we couldn’t put down? Or watched a serial on the television that we wished would not end? That is what a good story does, ensnares us and keeps us hooked long after we’re done with it.

So what makes a good story? How do we write a winner?

1. To start with – exactly that, the starting! A story that pulls readers into the plot right away is more likely to induce them to turn the pages and keep reading.

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having

nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’ ”

I find Lewis Carroll’s first paragraph perfect! It starts right away with a crisis, something that seems likely to impact Alice’s life and change it for good or for bad. I couldn’t wait to read on, to discover what Alice would do as a result of her boredom; I also wondered about the book “without pictures or conversation”.

And that leads me to the next two important things to keep in mind when you’re trying to write a book-with-a-difference: Pictures and Conversation.

2. Although Alice probably wanted the book to have pictures in the sense of images, I’m going to take creative liberty here. I am talking about the necessity of using words to paint pictures in our stories. When authors show rather than tell, they are painting pictures in their books. Take a look at the following two examples, one of which I used in my book ‘Scorched by His Fire’ (Harlequin® India, February 2014):

Example 1: Mita was furiously angry. Sammy walked her to his car so she could escape whatever was irritating her.

Example 2: Sammy looked down at Mita’s flushed face, at the angry tears that threatened, and immediately turned about, pushing her out of the door and straight into his car.

The first example is telling, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination. The second, showing, allows readers to interpret, in their own way, the picture that is drawn with the author’s words. Showing actively engages the reader and keeps interest alive.

3. The other element, the absense of which Alice lamented, is conversation. To create impact, dialogues between protagonists should be meaningful. Winning stories are those where the authors use dialogue to tell you more about the protagonists’ conflicts and difficulties, or about their relationships. The conversation should not be a bland exchange of dialogue, or simply a means to provide facts to the reader. You will find that you get better at writing meaningful dialogues as you continue to write. It also helps to read the works of authors that you admire. Carefully observe how they use conversation to advantage.

Here is an example from another favorite author, PG Wodehouse:

“Jeeves,” I said that evening. “I’m getting a check suit like that one of Mr. Byng’s.”

“Injudicious, sir,” he said firmly. “It will not become you.”

“What absolute rot! It’s the soundest thing I’ve struck for years.”

“Unsuitable for you, sir.”

This dialogue from ‘My Man Jeeves’ shows several things: the conflict, that is the difference of opinion over the check suit; the characters of the two main protagonists: Bertie passionate, Jeeves indomitable and unflappable; and, it sets the tone for the rest of the story, wherein Bertie obdurately buys the check suit but, right up to the end, never gets to wear it because “Jeeves is always right.”

4. If you can make your characters believable, your story is a winner right away. The perfect character cannot be immaculate or unblemished since no human being is perfect; we know that. Your characters should be someone readers can find something in common with; someone that reminds them of real people they know, maybe even their own selves. Your main characters, therefore, should have flaws, or a secret, just like real people have; they should feel fear, pain, happiness.

Tanay, the hero in my debut story, is handsome and tall and rich, but he is suspicious and punishing; Mita, my beautiful, impetuous heroine, frequently gets into trouble because she lets her emotions rule over her head. Having characters with foibles allows the author to exploit their weaknesses and generate conflict. That works out really well because conflict, complete with climax and resolution, is the backbone of a winning story.

5. Finally, a winning story is a story that you, the author, love to tell. Don’t try to write a story in a genre that is popular, and likely to sell, but one that you do not yourself enjoy.  You can only write a winning story if it comes from your soul. Your story will move the reader, get imprinted in her heart, make her laugh or cry, only if it came from the very heart of you.

So go ahead, dear authors, write for the love of it!

Also, do read ‘Scorched by His Fire’ for I have written it from my heart, and from my soul, and I hope you notice!

Guy

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The Road Less Travelled …- By Aarti Venkatraman

The title of this post is also the title of a poem by Robert Frost, a poem that I still go back to when I need inspiration. Encouragement and the will to do something that I still find difficult to do, every time I sit in front of the keyboard.

Write.

This wonderful poem by one of the greatest poets and, by extension, philosophers of our time, was first introduced to me back in standard seven. And it talks about the journey of a young man who is faced with decisions and choices in his life. It talks about the consequences that this man will end up with, when he makes these decisions and choices. One choice is easy. One choice is hard. Always. And the fate of the man depends on the choices he picks.

Where he ends up is decided by the road he takes to get there.

The Road Less Travelled, of course, would be the harder road. It is filled with perils and problems. Nothing comes easy on this road. The choices are difficult, the consequences are dire. You want to give up many times as you take this road because, hell…it’s hard! And who wants hard? WHY would anyone in his right mind pick a hard road when the world teaches us time and again that shortcuts are the surest way to success?

No one would.

People pick the easy road, the safe road. They work; they play, drive around in their sedans and live ordinary, mundane lives always dreaming of the extraordinary and the different. The choices they didn’t make and the road they didn’t take.

The Road Less Travelled isn’t for everyone.

The Road Less Travelled requires many things from its travellers. Devotion in the face of utter uncertainty. Determination in the face of chaos. And, most of all, Passion.

Passion.

It may be the purest emotion on the planet that this writer knows of.

I am not talking about rip-your-clothes-off, taken on the nearest flat surface passion, although that is the best example of passion there is. I am talking passion. Obsession. The need to do something different, to BE different. To dare it in the face of all gods and mankind. To dare it in the face of your parents and peers.

Passion.

As an emotion it knows no equal. And it has many sides, some cruel, some gentle and all of them leading one down a dark and dangerous Road Less Travelled that will leave the traveller changed in tiny, unalterable ways he doesn’t even know or is aware of. Passion is seductive, consuming. Great.

Don’t mistake me.

I am not talking about sex, lust or desire here.

I am talking about passion.

The passion to do something; BE something. My passion has been, and always will be, to write THE END on a piece of work that I begin. This could be a short story, a play, a full-length novel or an article. I have never known the need to do anything else. My passion has been single-minded, consuming.

Passion is a merciless god.

It will ask terrible things of you. The thing you are passionate about, whether it is a song, or an instrument, a painting or the need to paint. Whether it is to stand behind a camera lens or in front of one. Or, like it is for this writer, the need to write romance novels all day long, it asks terrible things. It demands obeisance. You have to give it everything you have.

It is a road that very, VERY few dare to travel.

A very close friend of mine, who is now on the verge of becoming an internationally recognized artiste said something that should echo through every one of those who make passion their god. He said, “I couldn’t live two lives at once and do justice to either one of them. I needed to make music my goal. I made my passion, my work and I am happy now. I made the right choice.”

Passion doesn’t guarantee success. Not immediately, and for some, not ever. But passion gives you something even more invaluable. It gives you courage, fortitude, self-belief. It teaches you your own self-worth and makes you smile in the face of terrible odds, because, you know what? You’ve done something that no one else on the planet has.

You’ve followed your passion. You’ve dared to go after the thing you want more than anything in the world.

The hardest thing in this world is to find out what makes you happy and to have the courage to find it.

The Road Less Travelled teaches you that this choice is worth it. Finding out what you want, DISCOVERING what is your bliss is such a joy, such a relief that, once you get there, you will look back and laugh at the years, the hard work that you put in to getting here. The only thing to remember is that this journey is lonely, cold and requires a tenacity that you need to find within yourself day after day. Not everyone has the gumption to choose The Road Less Travelled.

I chose it.

Or rather, it chose me.

There is a lovely ditty from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which, I came to know very recently was composed and sung in the lovely vaadiyan of Kashmir and that has just about made this song my anthem of 2013 and Kingdom Come (Harlequin India, 2014). The song is called “Kabira” and the piece of lyric that pierced me was “your shadows call out to you…”

Your passions will call out to you. Vague, formless, haunting.

Be it wanting to learn salsa dancing (on my to-do list) or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. My friend recently posted the picture of “Graham Hughes” who travelled the world, and visited all 201 countries via bus or train or on foot, never once using air. That is a man who picked the Road Least Travelled.

In Kingdom Come (Harlequin India, 2014), the Woodpecker picks such a road too. That of a terrorist, who uses only bombs to kill people. Not specific targets, although Wood doesn’t say no to blowing up an important figure out of principle, but Wood’s passion is bombs: the making of it, the process and what happens when one detonates.

Creation and destruction: the two sides of The Woodpecker.

Creation and destruction: the two sides of passion.

When I first began writing this novel, I had a hero. Not clean-cut, but rugged, handsome, damaged and a good guy, nonetheless. And I needed someone heinous, someone truly terrible to pit him against. The Woodpecker was not born out of a need to make Krivi into a superhero, if that’s what you’re thinking. Wood is instead the thread that makes and breaks him. Wood is, in effect, Kingdom Come (Harlequin India, 2014).

Because if I didn’t have this gruesome villain who has such an impressive rapsheet that the world has to sit and take notice and think of eliminating him, Kingdom Come wouldn’t have happened at all. I would have missed out on writing one of my best works.

I am not exaggerating when I say that The Woodpecker has been the hardest thing on the planet to write, because the scenes involving Wood required a level of inhumanity, cruelty and gore that I didn’t think I possessed. But, as I got involved deeper and deeper into my story, into this world I had created, I understood that pulling back and diluting the punch of his sheer evil would be wrong.

The Woodpecker was passionate about bombs so the bombs are what I would write about.

And, hopefully, at some point, Krivi Iyer, ex-MI5 agent would get his bad guy.

I didn’t know if this would actually happen, if I would ever get to the end, but I had faith. I had passion. And I had a blank page on my computer screen. So I started writing. And here I am, writing Harlequin India, 2014 after my own book, because it comes out this year with a publishing house that I respect, admire and dreamed about as a kid.

Passion is an exacting god, as all the fellow bloggers on this page will attest to.

But, if you persist and do not give up, if you somehow find it in your heart to soldier on, on The Road Less Travelled and think to yourself, “all right, even this,” then, let me tell you. You WILL get there. It WILL happen for you. Be it finding that right partner to jive with, a man to come home to at the end of your hard and exhausting day or simply writing THE END on the first-draft of a novel.

The key is to never give up. To be bold. To be different. And to know, freedom is only as good as what you do with it.

Thoreau’s haunting quote about all men and quiet desperation is something that will scare the living hell out of everyone who aspires to do something with their lives. It may be as simple as losing five kilos before a friend’s wedding (also on my to-do list), or it may lead to a life-changing moment as quitting your job and taking up music as your passion. Your career.

I have been asked to advice people, fellow aspiring writers on the best way to be a writer and follow your passions at the same time. I have only one rule for you.

There is no Plan B.

If you know passion, then you understand my statement. If you don’t, go find your passion and you will get there.

I am going to end this post with the last lines of the poem, The Road Less Travelled by Robert Frost.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep.

Miles to go before I sleep.”

And all it takes is that one step out the door.

 

Until next time,

Xoxo

-Aarti

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Sex in this city – By Aarti Venkatraman

“Howard Roark stood naked on a cliff and laughed.”

This is the opening line of one of my most favourite books, ever. The book is THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand and it was first published in 1922, nearly ninety years ago. The plot of the novel, considered far too progressive and damaging for its time is explained in over 500 pages and is basically one man’s struggle to stay true to himself, his art and his passion: modern architecture.

Ayn Rand called this new and novel concept “Individualism.”

It goes hand in hand with capitalism but is a bit more universal than just economics. Individualism basically allows an individual to remain so. To read, think, live, be. Write the way he or she wants to. It appreciates creativity and deplores sameness.

In 2012, a publishing phenomenon took the world by storm. The author was a 50-plus Australian woman called EL James and she really loved the Twilight movies so much, she began her first novel as Twilight Fan-Fic. Her hero was straight away inspired by the pasty-faced, vegetarian vampire half the world hates and the other half loves. She knew no one would take her work seriously, so she self-published in 2011.

By the next year, her books had crossed the Harry Potter book sales in Britain.

The world knows this phenomenon as the Fifty Shades trilogy.

I have two confessions here. I love the pasty-faced, vegetarian vampire Edward as played by Robert Pattinson on-screen. And I am not much fond of either Stephanie Meyer’s or EL James’ prose.

But, and this is the core of my post, I admire both of them. Tremendously. EL James took a huge leap of faith publishing mild erotica with bondage and S&M references and watched it capture the fancy of every woman on the planet. Stephanie Meyer took the age-old formula of vampires versus humans, turned it on its head and gave the world an appetite for preternaturally beautiful creatures.

In doing so, both these women, along with JK Rowling, Tolkien, Ayn Rand, Nora Roberts, did the reading world a huge favour and gave us new stories, new plots and new genres to think on and write about. They gave this reader something new to read.

Other, not-so-mainstream authors like Nalini Singh, Anne Rice, JR Ward (to name just a few), have been writing paranormal romance for years. And I am a product of the 90s cable TV era in India. I am a “Buffy-Spike-Angel” fan.

But none of these other talented authors could cross over to mainstream, populist fiction and fire the imaginations of millions of readers all over the world like Ms Meyer has, including yours truly.

Ditto for Ms James whose trilogy deals with hitherto taboo sexual practices like S&M and bondage and “taking it a bit too far” and is lot more straight-up erotica than, say, a Mills and Boon Romance. Suddenly, the reading world at large and in particular, India is ok with whips and chains and reading about the deliciously unspeakable. It is, WE are, titillated, enamoured, and this is the key word, accepting.

Sex is not taboo anymore.

My friends have seen women in the local trains of Mumbai devouring both the Twilight series and Fifty Shades series with gusto. It is wonderful, liberating.

India, I am proud to celebrate, is slowly but surely rotating on its regressive stance by giving readers, writers, the general public a platform to engage in a social conversation that will define the way future generations think and behave.

Blame it on the internet, blame it on The West, but the things that were taboo, forbidden, not spoken about, much less challenged are now openly discussed, explored and ‘figured out’ on social media, at dinner tables and inside the pages of a book.

Amish Tripathi, Chitra Divakaruni, Ashok Banker, Kavita Kane, Devdutt Patnaik and Anand Neelakantan, to name the top few, have taken this conversation a step further with their exploration of the humanity behind the two greatest epics-myths India will ever see. Banker and Neelakantan with Ramayana and the others with Mahabharata. Amish, the sole breakout, gave us demi-god Shiva, as I have already mentioned in my previous blog. Sexy, hunky, “chillum”-smoking with the fate of civilization resting on his able shoulders.

These brilliant writers have torn the veil of mystery surrounding our mythologies and given them a much-needed breath of fresh air.

They have made them human, approachable, fallible.

Shiva is not just Destroyer of the World with moves better than Jagger; he is also just a man hopelessly pining for his Sati. Uruvi, Karna’s wife, is not just a near-silent, forgotten figure in the epic battle but a strong, independent woman who steadfastly loves the man she calls husband. The great Lord Ram is no longer a mythical, divine figure. He is a man fighting another man who took his wife.

These here-to-fore revered beings, Gods and Goddesses even, are revealed to be earthy beings with the same passions and fears that haunt the rest of us mere mortals. Jealousy, love, lust, revenge and a range of human emotions provide a strong thread in the narrative of these modern, reimagined myths.

And, they detract nothing from the original sanctity of the stories or the incredible impact they have had on past and future generations. The values are not lost by weaving a richer tapestry of inner conflict, self-doubt and most of all, love.

In the end, all these stories are about love. Be it Twilight, Fifty Shades, Palace of Illusions or The Ramayana Series.

Love really does make the world go round.

The reason why I started reading and, later on, writing romances is because there is an inexhaustible supply of human emotions to choose from. Take two vastly different people on opposite sides of an issue, put them in the same space, give it a good stir and watch the fireworks explode. People are endlessly fascinating and wonderfully refreshing to write about time after time.

Love, be it any kind, family, siblings, friendship is a source of enduring inspiration and conflict.

Any good story, especially, any good ROMANCE is only as good as the conflict it generates between its characters. It is amazing that writers from all walks of the literary spectrum tread this line so effortlessly with pleasing results. New ideas and new plots leap off of bookshelves and e-bookstores and into our hearts.

Special mention needs to be made here about the power of digital publishing and how it has single-handedly revolutionized the publishing industry. With the advent of e-books and self-publishing, more and more avenues have opened for this generation of writers. Damon Lindeloff, of LOST fame, co-wrote an entire book on Twitter called “S”. It is now on the New York Times bestseller list.

Writing now has become organic, different, exciting.

Writing romance, and by extension, sex has never been as easy as it is today. In this time. Today we celebrate the coming together of two people, two characters in their hearts, souls and, yes, bodies too.

One of the most pivotal and painful chapters I have written in my life is Chapter Twelve of my debut Harlequin novel Kingdom Come (March, 2014). The heroine Ziya, has undergone the worst trauma of her life. And in her moment of greatest need, she turns to Krivi, the man inadvertently responsible for this tragedy, for comfort and passion. She wants to FEEL something, anything. Even if it is just desire for a man who is anything but “Good Guy.”

The reason it was pivotal was because it changed the dynamics of the relationship between my leads Krivi and Ziya from uneasy partners to uneasy lovers with a murky future and deadly villain to apprehend. And it was painful because translating, transferring, grief into a more positive emotion, a celebration even, was a move that needed to be made with delicacy and sensitivity.

When Ziya mourned, I mourned with her. But when she yearned, I stuttered, faltered, had sleepless nights as I gave her and Krivi the kind of passionate interlude they needed and deserved in the middle of carnage.

The purpose of this blog was to talk about writers exploring new themes and plots to tell a powerful story to a growing audience.

By the end of this post, I have realized that ALL writers tell the same story. About people, relationships, their place in this world or any other of their own making. Stories are inhabited and made stronger by INDIVIDUALS who think and act for themselves. Be it Lord Shiva, who takes up his role as leader by allowing his fellow refugees to be ‘vaccinated’ by the immortal Meluhan, Ayurvati. Or Ziya, who decides to love a man who is not just damaged but skilled in the killing arts.

Choices: such a small word, so much potential.

Bella would have had no story if Edward hadn’t chosen to stop a van from crushing her. Draupadi would have been happily married to Arjuna if Kunti hadn’t thoughtlessly requested the brothers share the gift they had got her. Plots become interesting when the character is faced with choices that, in turn, add to the conflict in the story.

This is a theme that is often repeated in Kingdom Come (March 2014): internal conflict, external conflict, even international conflict, with a hard-core villain called The Woodpecker at the heart of it all.

It wasn’t an easy choice to write, but it was the right one.

I hope, when you see the title at a nearby bookstore, you dear reader, pick it up to read. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

–          Xoxo

Aarti

Read romance to write romance

Read romance to create romance – By Tanu Jain

Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer, Betty Neels, Madeleine Ker, Margaret Pargeter, Daphne Clair, Rebecca Stratton, Sally Wentworth, Jessica Steele, Penny Jordan, Margaret Way, Jayne Anne Krentz, Sara Craven, Carol Mortimer, Michelle Reid, Lynne Graham, Sarah Morgan, Julia James, India Grey, Olivia Gates.

Every romance addict would recognize and bow down before these names in a trice. All these names, my dear readers, belong to highly acclaimed writers, those fabulous writers whose books peopled my imagination, fuelled my dreams and ignited my feelings. I’m Tanu Jain and the topic of today’s blog is ‘Do readers make better writers?’

I would like to share a few of my reader traits. I was and am a romance junkie. All my pocket money and extra money that I could lay my hands on was spent on books and especially romance novels! My long suffering mother had thrown up her hands in despair and laid down just one condition – that for each Mills and Boon that I bought, I would buy a classic as well. So, while the classics would be read grudgingly, the Mills and Boon would be devoured and gorged upon.

Reading introduced me to an entire gamut of characters, to the possibilities of plot and storyline, to the beauty of words and nuances of language. At the mundane level, reading improved my grammar, amplified my vocabularyand augmented my knowledge.

I learnt foreign words – Ma Cherie, querida, bellisimo, giada mia, mon amour, mio amore, Tesoro, caro, delizioso, amado, mon ange, je t’aime, ti amo.

I learnt some important statistics — French heroes are a study in sophistication, Italian heroes flirt outrageously, Greek and Arabic heroes have deep reaching family roots and the newly arrived Russian heroes have larger than life figures.

I gained knowledge of the world – Paris is the love destination; numerous Greek islands are privately owned by tycoons and jetsetters and St. Tropez, Ibiza, Cote’ d Azur are ‘the’ places for romantic wooing.

I met myriad heroines. Barbara Cartland’s ethereally beautiful heroines; Betty Neels no-nonsense nurse heroines; Jessica Steele’s slightly distracted heroines; Penny Jordan’s wronged heroines; Lynne Graham’s good but woefully misunderstood heroines; Margaret Way’s slight but spirited heroines and Julia James and Sarah Morgan’s feisty but in dire straits heroines.

And in hindsight, I would like to think that I because I was a voracious reader I was able to write better than I otherwise would have written.

I knew the plots that appealed to me, the kind of characters that touched me, the pace of story that I wanted and the language I wanted to use.

I had liked Margaret Way’s beautiful descriptions of the Australian outback; Penny Jordan’s cruel but delicious heroes; Lynne Graham’s steamy descriptions; Sarah Morgan’s sizzling encounters and Julia James’ story twists.

When I sat down to write, the disparate threads of what I liked and what I didn’t like in a book came together. And when I stood with the manuscript in hand, I remembered Henry Adams who said,

“A TEACHER AFFECTS ETERNITY; HE CAN NEVER TELL WHERE HIS INFLUENCE STOPS.”

So it was with all the books I had read. ‘His Captive Indian Princess’ is also a tribute to the countless Mills and Boon that I have gobbled and wolfed down. Reading definitely made me a better writer I proudly admit.

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Important skills for a writer- By Shoma Narayanan

Being able to write, let’s assume is a prerequisite.  Which still leaves a pretty wide canvas, because a lot of people who can write don’t take up writing as a primary or even a secondary career.  I’m putting down some of the traits and skills I think help make a successful author.  Because I love lists and bullet points, and I can’t use them in my books, I’m indulging myself in this blog.  (Sometimes I’m very tempted to write a book in bullet points for my male friends who refuse to read romances because they’re ‘girly’.  Eg:  Pt 1. She looked at him; Pt 2. He was incredibly handsome; Pt 3.  Her heart started beating faster.  And so on and so forth.  But I digress, let me get back to the subject!)

  1.  It’s important to be passionate about your writing.  Expecting readers and publishers to accept work that you’re not passionate about yourself is a bit like cooking a meal and wanting people to appreciate it when you’re refusing to taste it yourself.  Passion breeds conviction, as the wise man said.
  2. Being a good observer.  It’s the little nuances that bring a book alive for a reader.  People’s clothes, their expressions, the way they move or talk or laugh – even descriptions of the weather or the setting can turn an otherwise mundane passage into an evocative piece of prose.
  3. Doing your background research.  This of course varies from genre to genre – the amount of research required for a fantasy set in an imaginary land is much less than in a historical novel.  Even in modern romance writing, a fair bit of research is required.  For example, in my latest book “The One She Was Warned About”, the hero is an event manager, and I needed to do speak to people from the event management industry to get an idea of what a working day would be like for him.  Similarly, as the hero and heroine were moving between Mumbai, Kerala, Delhi and Pune, I had to get details about the weather and flights right.
  4. Taking criticism positively and using it to improve your writing.  If someone’s taken time out to read a story and give feedback on it, her opinion is usually worth having.  You needn’t agree with the feedback – but you do need to understand why she liked/ disliked your story.
  5. Stick-to-it-ivity.  Writing can be incredibly frustrating.  There are weekends when I move everything around in my schedule to accommodate a couple of hours of writing.  Then I spend those hours chewing my fingernails and staring at my laptop because not a single sentence turns out right.  On those days, it’s important to give yourself a little break, but even more important to come back to your writing as soon as you can, and stick with it till you get it done.
  6. Concentrating and letting your imagination run free at the same time.  It’s a fine balance, because unless you concentrate whole-heartedly on your writing, you won’t get anything worthwhile done. But if you concentrate too hard, you tend to get a little mechanical, and that doesn’t work either.  It helps if you take some time out for a bit of free thinking.  What if Character 1 does something completely outrageous – how would Character 2 react? What if the whole book was set in the future?   Would the motivations remain the same?  Most of this won’t find its way into the final book, but it’ll help you break loose from formulaic or imitative writing.

 There’s a lot more, but these are the most important according to me.  Happy writing!

 

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How to build your characters by Tanu Jain, Author of “His Captive Indian Princess”

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
William Faulkner

What happened with William Faulkner is exactly what happened with me.

Hello fellow romance aficionados! I’m Tanu Jain and I’m here to share my thoughts on building of fictional characters.

Gauri and Vikram, the protagonists of “His Captive Indian Princess” crashed into me at the ruins of a fort and as soon as we got up and dusted ourselves they began to bicker and squabble. They quarreled and I looked on bemused at the sparks flying around and the chemistry blazing between them. The story was in a nascent stage but the characters weren’t bothered. They continued their verbal sparring both determined to outdo the other.

This has always been how my fictional journey begins. The characters come first and then the story follows. But though Vikram and Gauri, had materialized with a bang, they required some further painstaking craftsmanship. 

Gauri, my heroine seemed to jump off the pages, as my editor told me, and was eminently vivacious and likeable. But Vikram was coming across as a pompous, cruel boor. So, the pitch was to make him likeable and attractive.
I had to figure him out in detail, flesh out his character and bring to fore his roundedness.

I realized that a character like any human being is composed of individual qualities, quirky traits and skeins of motivation.
I racked my memory for characters I had empathized with over the years, characters that had stayed long when the book or movie had gone.  I pondered over their individual qualities that had caught my interest and imagination. And then the motivation aspect came in. What motivated the character? And once I had painstakingly discovered the impulses that drove him and the demons that rode him I could empathize and bring him out correctly.

One tip in crafting characters which has been passed on to me and I would like to share with you is to first of all, draw a male figure and a female figure. These are the main characters. Then, proceed to fill them with physical description, emotional traits, intellectual qualities and background details. As the story progresses add the state of mind of the character. This helps in fleshing out the character and creating a well rounded personality.

Vikram and Gauri, my first romantic hero and heroine are a tribute to the alpha males and feisty, spirited women that I met in the pages of countless Mills and Boon. But though fashioned out of the same rib, they are their own persons. It was a heady feeling to perceive myself as a creator but I realized that the shoe was on the other foot.  Vikram and Gauri had shaken off my shackles and developed and matured, carving out their distinct identities. And even after the book finished, they remained with me as two people, I was proud to have met and known. 

I’d like to conclude with Ernest Heminway’s insightful quote,

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

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How to Build Your Writing Chops – by Adite Banerjie (MB Indian Author)

Everyone has a book inside of them – but it doesn’t do any good until you pry it out. – Jodi Picoult

How often have you had a flash of inspiration and thought, “Now, that would be an excellent idea for a novel!”? Ideas are all around us. Sometimes it’s a news story or a snippet of conversation that gives flight to your imagination. At other times it could be an interesting photograph or an old story that you heard from your parents. A visit to a place could trigger an idea. Or it could even be a strange dream that you simply can’t get over.

Giving shape to the idea and developing it into a story with a beginning, middle and end, however, requires more than just inspiration. Often a brilliant idea fizzles out when you actually pick up the pen and start writing it down.

Just like an athlete would train and practice for the main event, a writer too needs to build her writing chops. Here are a few tips on how to organise your thoughts and “pry out” the story from your initial idea.

Freeform writing. One way of generating ideas or preparing yourself for the long haul of spending the next three to five months writing a book is by doing freeform writing. Spend thirty minutes every day on doing some freeform writing. Pick any topic that pops into your head at the moment. Don’t think. Just write. You will be amazed at how easily the words flow.

If you already have a story idea playing in your head you will most probably end up writing a scene or two. But the point of this exercise is just to limber up for the writing ahead. Don’t stress, just write whatever comes to your mind. If during the process you end up writing a few scenes or developing a character’s back story, that’s the cherry on the cake!

If you find it difficult to start, do a google search for writing prompts and consider using one of those to get you started.

Keep Notes. Ideas often pop up when you least expect them to and disappear in a jiffy too. It’s always a good idea to keep a small notebook handy and scribble a few points orlines when that brainwave strikes. All you need to do is write down a few words/thoughts to jog your memory when you get down to brainstorming the idea.

This is what I wrote down when the idea for my novel “The Indian Tycoon’s Marriage Deal” flashed in my mind: “Small town girl wants revenge against a powerful businessman.”

It was an idea that excited me but I had no clue whether that thought could lead to a full-fledged novel.

Ask questions.Before you start the process of writing your story, you need to do some preparatory work. Be curious about your idea. Ask a lot of questions. If you have a character in mind, ask yourself what about this character fascinates you and why? Do an interview with her, ask her pointed questions. Write down the answers. One question will lead to another and some more. Some answers will take you by surprise. Be like a detective in search of clues—persistent and don’t settle for easy answers. Give your lead character a hard time. After all, she is going to be the Heroine of your book, and you want her to deserve the spotlight, don’t you?

These were some of the questions I asked:

“What’s the name of this girl who wants revenge?”

“Which town does she hail from?”

“What’s her background, who are her parents?”

“Why does she want revenge?”

Brainstorming and asking questions of your character is a good start. Go a bit further down that road and start exploring some of the themes that may have cropped up when you were interviewing your lead character.

For my story, I started exploring the theme of revenge, which led to why/what/how/where/when questions. Somewhere along the way I asked: what kind of career does this small girl have? What are interests/hobbies? Did her parents influence her in her choice of career? Before long I had decided that my Heroine would bea landscape designer. I did some research on the Internet to find out more about what landscape designers do and I found a way to link it back to the issue of the Heroine’s need for revenge.

During the brainstorming process, other characters will begin to emerge. And once that begins to happen, you’re off and running. You’re on a roll, and you’re itching to start writing your story. 

Have Fun. Play around with different ideas. Keep short notes about these. You could use some of them or discard them all. But when you sit down to draw up an outline or short synopsis of your plot, these will definitely come in handy.But whatever your story, however intense the plot or characters, make sure you have fun with it.

Now, go pry out your story! Happy Writing! J

Adite

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